“As Bev and I sat down on the precipice in solemn meditation, I prayed that God would come into our hearts. I prayed for understanding and love. I prayed for Alicia’s soul and the souls of the others who had died with her earlier in the day. I prayed for our world.” These are the words of John Titus, a father and the author of “Losing Alicia,” whose daughter was a flight attendant aboard United Airlines Flight #175 – the second airplane that hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Unfortunately, what this father, in spite of the immediacy of his grief, could achieve, our politicians could not. Contrast the above sentiment, where the prayer for one’s daughter’s soul reaches out and embraces the whole world, with the golden words of President Bush in response to the same tragedy, “every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
Over and over, at every anniversary of the great tragedy, we see our politicians, our pundits, our “experts” touted by the media, complaining, finding fault, laying blame… But who is to blame? Not just for what happened on 9/11, but for what happened since? As the media gets caught up in the frenzy of yet another anniversary, providing 24/7 coverage of the ceremonies, the re-construction of the twin towers and the opening of the memorial museum at ground zero, where is the dialogue on “where to from here?”
After ten years, we can clearly see that our politicians, including President Bush, Vice President Cheney, NY Governor George Pataki and NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, made the biggest mistake in the history of the United States. America was wounded, bleeding. The attention of the entire world was focused on us. People we elected as our representatives, people who spoke then, and continue to speak in our names, could have used this incalculable opportunity to open a worldwide dialogue on pain, suffering, violence, vengeance, retribution, resolution, reconciliation… and the future of humanity.
Instead, they chose “war on terrorism!”
“Rest in Peace, for we shall not repeat the error,” reads the cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where on Monday, August 6, 1945, at 8:15 AM, the Atomic Bomb “Little Boy” was dropped by an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, directly killing an estimated 80,000 people, and bringing the total casualty by the year-end, from injury and radiation, to a staggering 90,000–140,000.
What was it about the leadership of Japan who responded to this atrocity during the second anniversary commemoration – not by declaring a desire for retribution – but by adopting the famous “Peace Declaration?”
May be it is time for us to reflect on the Humanist principle, “You will make your conflicts disappear when you understand them in their ultimate roots, not when you try to resolve them”.
Indeed, the United States has historical experience with real leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, who in their times of crisis, helped the country to move forward and lead the world in the right direction.
Today, people such as John Titus are indeed beacons of hope. So are artists like Faith Ringgold who, along with NYC students aged 8-19 years, created the 9/11 Peace Story Quilt, now on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
There is hope yet for us all. May be it is time for our elected officials to stop and really listen to what those who elected them have to say. May be the American Dream can still become a reality, but one thing is certain – it will not come from violence and bigotry. After all these years, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., opposing the Vietnam War, still ring true: “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action…. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
Let us shake ourselves out of inaction. Let us stand together – as one city, one nation and one world – and look into the depths of our souls to find the shining jewel of life-forward-movement, which will be the best way to honor the heroes and the fallen of 9/11.
By Sushmita Mukherjee and David Andersson
Sushmita Mukherjee: Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a humanist
David Andersson: Director of NYC Chapter of the Humanist Party and the coordinator of the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights (Ivote NYC)